Naturalist Newsletter of January 28, 2008
issued from Yerba Buena Clinic just outside
Pueblo Nuevo Solistahuacan, Chiapas, MÉXICO
about 1740 meters in elevation, ± LAT. 17° 11' 27"N, LONG. -92° 53' 35"W
Above, you can see a cudweed on a roadcut near my place.
Cudweeds are plain-looking members of the Composite or Sunflower Family, which means that their many tiny flowers are crammed together into flowerlike heads. One way to recognize cudweeds is by the white, cobwebby hairs mantling their bodies, and by their clumped-together flower heads lacking petal-like ray flowers. In the old days the cudweed species I dealt with were placed into the easy-to-recognize genus Gnaphalium but now Gnaphalium has been broken into smaller genera that only nit-picking taxonomists can appreciate.
No matter where I've traveled on Earth whenever I've seen cudweed -- and species occur practically worldwide -- I've always remembered the first time I came to Yerba Buena 25 or 30 years ago. At that time the clinic was operational and I was invited to participate in my first medical-service trip deep into the mountains to a village served by no roads, no electricity, no stores and certainly no medical attention. Burros carried supplies over narrow, muddy footpaths. It was my first time seeing just how impoverished and bad-off some of these backcountry settlements are.
I was assigned to hold people's heads as the clinic's dyslexic handyman pulled, levered and cut out rotten teeth, even after the Novocain ran out. Student nurses went hut to hut offering what help they could, mainly giving women advice on dealing with their pregnancies, but also counseling on treating tuberculosis, which infected a large portion of the adult population. A goodly number of people -- and not all were old -- were clearly coughing themselves to death.
For any and all respiratory problems, including TB cases, the student nurses prescribed gordolobo, a lobo gordo being a "fat wolf." Gordolobo is the name people here use for the plant I call cudweed. Weedy, overgrazed, eroding pastures surrounding such settlements always produce cudweed in abundance. For all chest ailments just go pick a cudweed bouquet, put it in boiling water, drink the tea, and hope for the best.
Maximino Martínez's Las Plantas Medicinales de México confirms cudweed/gordolobo's use for chest disorders, and expands its use to controlling coughing, and soothing sore throats. He prescribes making teas from the flowers but I've seen people use the whole plants. I've brewed the rather bland, yellowish teas both ways but can't say whether they work or not, since I've never had a cold in cudweed/gordolobo country.
With regard to the name cudweed, I wonder how many Americans these days even know what a cud is? Back on the farm in Kentucky "cud," which rhymes with "good," was a term as commonly used and homey-feeling as "worsh-house" and "fart." A cud is a wad of partially digested plant material brought up from a horse's or cow's first stomach when there's nothing else around to chew on. The critter stands around blankly staring at barn walls or fence posts as they chew on (ruminate) their cud until it's mashed up enough to swallow again and send to the second stomach. If you don't know about complex three- and four-chambered stomachs you may want to do a word search on "ruminant."
My tobacco-chewing kinfolk also used to carry "cuds" of tobacco in their coverall pockets. Fancier chewers called cuds "quids."